Coronavirus and the need for social distancing are having a major impact on the global workforce. If you’re one of the many companies asking your employees to work from home until the dust settles, then it’s important to make sure it’s a smooth transition.
There are several considerations you want to make, including equipment needs, setting appropriate expectations, and helping your team stay productive, happy, and stress-free—even as things seem more chaotic.
Don’t panic. With the right tools and a flexible team, you’ll be able to weather this season. You may even find that the temporary experience of managing remote teams and working separately will help you come back together stronger than ever.
At Palo Alto Software, we strongly believe in the benefits of working together in an office. That being said, we also believe that work is a thing you do, not a place you go, so we support remote work as often as possible. We’ve found that keeping flexible work hours and encouraging collaborative remote work when needed has been most successful when expectations are communicated with a detailed remote work policy.
With all of that in mind, our team remotely collaborated in a Google Doc to put this list together for you. It includes some important advice for first-time remote workers, as well as our favorite tools to help keep teams working together, no matter where they’re doing their work.
3 Tips for A Healthy Remote Workforce:
Promote open communication:
Open communication is important even when your team is in the same building. However, it’s especially important for remote teams, because you don’t have the benefit of water cooler conversations or running into a coworker in the hall.
With fewer face-to-face interactions, it’s healthy for teams to regularly share what they’re working on, and ask for help if they’re getting stuck. To keep teams aligned, make sure your weekly, monthly, or quarterly objectives are posted where everyone can access them, and then follow up as projects are completed.
Check-ins with your team are also great to set on a recurring schedule. Having your team perform a virtual “stand-up” meeting at the same day and time to post their week’s projects helps surface opportunities for collaboration and strategic alignment. As a manager, you should also have regular 1:1 meetings with team members to find out how they’re doing, prioritize projects together, and discover how you can best support their work.
Emphasize healthy transparency & accountability:
Let’s be honest, no one wants to feel like “big brother is watching.” But according to Rob de Luca of Bamboo HR, “done well, transparency creates trust between employers and employees, helps improve morale and lower job-related stress while increasing employee engagement and boosting performance.”
For some, “accountability” will sound like code for a workplace that punishes the smallest of mistakes. With the right culture, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Teams should openly embrace talking about mistakes and what you can learn from failure, without a focus on blaming or punishing individuals. Healthy accountability leads to improved team performance and a willingness to make smarter, bigger risks that lead to bigger wins.
Value downtime & beware of an “always-on” culture:
“All work and no play…” is relevant here. When work and home life are blended together in the same physical space, it’s common for employees to feel like they’re never truly “off work” or “at home.” That can have an adverse effect on productivity, creativity, job satisfaction, and home life. To counteract this, encourage team members to set “working hours,” and stick to them.
You’ll also need to set expectations around communication, and which channels are appropriate to use and when. For example, outside of a team’s working hours, don’t ping coworkers with non-urgent work requests on your instant-messaging platform. Those are better suited for asynchronous communication like email or a project management tool. This is especially important for managers: whenever you reach out to your direct reports, be clear about your expectations for follow up. If something’s urgent, say so; and if it’s not, say that too.
To keep your team happy, refreshed, and engaged, encourage your employees to take time off and actually unplug from their work. You can also build camaraderie and connection by intentionally scheduling downtime together during working hours.
The 10 Best Remote Work Tools in 2020:
Often times maintaining healthy remote work practices comes down to the types of collaborative tools you use. By adapting your communication and transparency strategies around effective tools for remote work, you can better set up your team for success.
Here are the top 10 tools that the Palo Alto Software team currently uses and has found to be most effective when working remotely.
Communication & collaboration
Whether your team is in the office together or spread out in different locations, your customer email communication should be a top priority. Using traditional email clients like Gmail or Office 365 to manage your info@, support@, or sales@ email addresses is clunky and frustrating, often resulting in embarrassing interactions with customers.
With Outpost, your team can collaborate in the same shared inbox—without stepping on each other’s toes. You can save up to 10+ hours a week managing email, get rid of inbox clutter, and help your team reply to customers quickly and professionally. With features like assignments, private internal notes, collision alerts, and saved templates, your team can streamline shared email and be more productive.
Note: Outpost is our product. While everything’s in flux with the impact of Covid-19, we want to help. If your team of 5 or more is transitioning to remote work, we’ll let you use Outpost free for 60 days. Just talk to our sales team and they’ll help you set up your free account.
We love using Slack to communicate directly with each other via instant messaging. We’ve also created dedicated channels for project-based teams, general company communication, and even sharing pictures of our puppies and kittens. Slack can also let you do individual or group calls, which work really well in a pinch.
Over time, we’ve learned as a group how to adjust personal notification settings to avoid distracting chatter. Setting statuses really helps with this, and some team members even choose to “go dark” or “offline” for an hour or two to focus on their work. With instant messaging and a ton of customizations to find what works, Slack has become an essential tool for us.
If phones are an essential communication channel between your team, business partners, and customers, then you’ll want to use a virtual phone system that isn’t hard-wired to an office desk. That’s where Dialpad comes in.
With Dialpad, you can give your employees company phone numbers, and they can make Voice Over IP (VoIP) calls directly from their computers. They can also route their company phone number directly to their cell phone, keeping everything connected and equipment to a minimum.
Pro tip: for best performance, invest in some quality noise-canceling headsets to keep calls clear of ambient noise in a variety of environments.
There are a ton of video conference solutions out there, and to be honest, there’s not a ton of difference between them. Across our teams, we’ve used Google Hangouts, Slack, Skype, Uberconference, GoToMeeting, and others to conduct conference calls or video chats. It tends to come down to individual preference, but whatever system you choose, you want to pick something that is easy to use, has reliable performance, and produces consistent video/audio quality.
Some of that will depend on the internet service each person is connected to. For us though, Zoom gets the top pick because it’s easy to use and has consistent quality. Plus, you can create free accounts that allow up to 40-minute video calls, screen sharing and the ability to include up to 100 people on a call.
When it comes to performance reviews, goal sharing, check-ins, and ongoing updates, Lattice is a well-made one-stop-shop. We originally started using Lattice to conduct our yearly and quarterly employee performance reviews. Over time, however, we’ve really seen the value in using Lattice for its other features too.
Lattice goals help us set and track quarterly company-, team-, and employee-based Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). We use the weekly updates feature to help employees share what’s working, what they’re stuck on, and rate their emotional status. And we also use the 1:1 feature to help set talking points, add comments, and share links in order to guide our face-to-face check-ins.
Sharing important information:
- G Suite (Drive, Docs, Sheets, etc.)
G Suite has been a well-known game changer for collaboration and document sharing. We regularly use Google Docs to allow others to contribute to our written documents, Sheets for sharing data spreadsheets and analysis, Slides for our monthly company updates, and Google Drive to have a central cloud storage repository for our shared company assets.
- LastPass by LogMeIn
As a remote team, it will be necessary to share login information to commonly used tools. However, sharing passwords over email, chat, or text is a big security risk. That’s why we use LastPass to store shared passwords in a secure, encrypted platform. Once you add the LastPass extension to your browser, each team member can easily auto-fill shared passwords, without ever needing to see them or write them down.
You can also customize LastPass to share specific passwords by department. Although their mobile integration can be a bit clunky sometimes, overall the tool works great and is a huge security benefit.
As a software company, we recognize that we have a unique process and need for project management tools. As such, we’ve tried a lot of tools, and we actively use more than the average business. Your team can probably just pick one of these to start with, rather than needing all three, but we have noticed different benefits for each.
Our project managers use Monday to manage our backlog of product and website development ideas, estimate the effort required for each project, and prioritize which ones we’re going to work on each quarter. The interface is well-designed and easy to review for employees across a variety of departments, but once we’ve selected a quarter’s worth of work, the actual developers track their work in Atlassian’s Jira (we know, another tool).
Our writing and editorial team loves using Trello’s Kanban-style platform to build a pipeline of articles and move them through a clear editorial process, from topic selection all the way to final publishing and promotion. Other teams use Trello for a similar method of tracking projects through a standardized beginning-to-end process, and we’ve even seen other companies use Trello to share their product roadmaps with their users.
Basecamp has been a long-time staple for our non-developer teams. It’s a great tool to share ideas with each other, discuss projects together, set up individual tasks, and check off items when they’re complete. On top of that, the Basecamp team has developed excellent resources to help you improve your team performance and get more done, even while you’re remote.